“From the in-laws they received too many gifts to count. Included were male and female servants, horses, elephants, gold, clothing and jewels.” (Janaki Mangala, 156)
dāija bhayau bibidha bidhi jāi na so gani |
dāsī dāsa bāji gaja hema basana mani ||
External features alone do not distinguish a material existence. One may be rich, poor, young, old, male, or female, but it is the consciousness which gives the real indication on the type of existence. In a material existence one is always fearful. Consider the animals. They are in a precarious condition since they don’t have great intelligence to use in defending themselves. A dog cannot make a call to the local security company to install an alarm system to surround the perimeter of its home. The cat cannot pick up a rifle to defend itself from attack. The human beings have these advantages, but in the material existence they are also fearful. This fear permeates all aspects of life, including marriage.
In looking around, you think you have good reason to fear. Where are the jobs? Where is the security? Just one accident while walking outside could leave you stuck with a debt in medical bills impossible to pay off in a single lifetime. Financial hardship is a moment away, and when it comes how is one expected to cope? Even if you pay off the mortgage on your house, you still have to pay taxes annually. The larger your house and the more affluent the neighborhood, the larger the burden that must be paid each year. In effect, the beginning portion of the work year is spent in just paying the debt of taxes. Who says slavery is abolished, as one must work in order to be allowed to live in the area they do?
Therefore, not surprisingly, money is a major concern. “How will I save money? Let me clip these coupons. Let me shop where there are deals. Even if this deal is supposedly expired, let me haggle with the salesperson to see if they can cut me some slack. Let me threaten to cancel my phone service so that the company will lower my monthly bill. Let me purchase items from a big box retailer, use them for a while, and then return them to the store. The store has a very liberal return policy, so in this way I’m renting things for free instead of buying them outright.”
As the fearful soul in a material existence is constantly concerned with money, they can’t help themselves when it comes to marriage arrangements. Vedic marriages are notorious for the concept of a dowry, which today is taken to mean a payoff. “I’ll only allow your daughter to marry my son if you pay me a certain amount. Make me an offer I can’t refuse. Without a handsome dowry, this marriage isn’t going to happen.”
From the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala we get the real purpose to a dowry. It is nothing more than a gift. Indeed, even in weddings that are not arranged by the parents, there is still great concern for money. The hosts of the reception, typically the bride and groom, eagerly anticipate the gifts that are to come in, often openly stating their preference to receive cash instead of items.
The dowry in the original sense is a gift from the father of the bride to the newlyweds. A gift is better if it comes from the heart, if it’s given out of love instead of obligation. Janaka had the most love in his heart for his beautiful daughter Sita. He was so pleased that she was marrying the eldest son of King Dasharatha, Shri Rama. The first hint of Janaka’s enormous generosity came when he gave away three more beautiful princesses to Rama’s brothers. Thus four marriages took place simultaneously. Rather than fret over what gift to give or how much he had to pay, Janaka then liberally donated so many things.
Here it is said that the gifts were too many to count. There were servants, both male and female. We can think of these people to be like butlers and maids, but more well-wishers than hired help. Instead of simply getting a paycheck for their work, they received a sustainable livelihood in a royal kingdom. They were very happy to serve the new couples. These servants were very close to the members of the kingdom. Sita had her own attendants as well, and they always looked after her.
There was gold, jewels, horses, elephants and clothing. Janaka gave the best gifts to the new couples. Since the men who were getting married were the Supreme Lord originally and three partial incarnations of Him, Janaka’s offering was one in devotion. In pure devotion, bhakti-yoga, or Krishna-prema, there is no motivation and no interruption. Nothing can check someone who wants to serve God. The abundance of gifts wasn’t required here, but Janaka had it to offer. He was not afraid of losing anything, for by serving God one gains the whole world.
Whether one has a lot or a little is of no concern to the Supreme Lord. It’s the thought that counts, and here Janaka showed how pure his thoughts were. Even in the material existence, where circumstances give cause for constant fear, one can still make kind offerings simply through chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” A single instance of chanting the holy names purely, without motive, is more valuable than any material offering that could be made.
How to protect my stuff so dear,
Gives cause for my constant fear.
Even in marriage from debt to lift,
Couples anticipate handsome gift.
For Janaka nothing in reserve to save,
Liberally to four new couples he gave.
Since to Rama, this offering to God was made,
In pure devotion no cause to be afraid.